Digital Manufacturing – stripped back and made simple

Digital Manufacturing – stripped back and made simple

By Keith Butler

The media love to promote Industry 4.0 or I4.0 or even I4 as the next “silver bullet” solution for manufacturing companies; and often in doing so create an unhealthy expectation which has the effect of alienating exactly those organisations that should be excited about such things. At a recent industry dinner event hosted by Wickland Westcott and Barclays the collective 32 leaders representing the sector expressed their dislike of the term I4.0, preferring the more accurate descriptor of “Digital Manufacturing”.

Brian Holliday, MD of Siemens Digital Industries, explained that as more automated tools and computer systems have become used in manufacturing plants it has become necessary to model, simulate, and analyse all of the machines, tooling, and input materials in order to optimize the manufacturing process. Overall, digital manufacturing can be seen sharing the same goals as computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), flexible manufacturing, lean manufacturing, and design for manufacturability (DFM). The main difference is that digital manufacturing was evolved for use in the computerized world. That said, this is not just something for large scale operations to consider.

On the evening many examples were shared of how digital manufacturing can add cash returns to small and large companies alike, one being a small “metal bashing” company on the Wirral. With £5m sales and employing 50 staff, the company improved their operating efficiency from 30% to 70% by tapping into government backed initiatives, like Made Smarter that offer funding and insight. On this occasion they largely provided knowledge and were able to advise the company on how they could improve machine utilisation, with little / no investment, and benefit from government subsidies to encourage the adoption of digital manufacturing, resulting in the delivery of £500k of cash profit.

Interestingly, the conversation on the night also acknowledged that key to success when adopting digital manufacturing is agile learning and agile working along with cultural change and is the subject of another of this month’s pieces. (Lack of Trust and Leadership – the Biggest Barrier to Flexible Working).

The event was held at the 1830 station warehouse, part of the Science and Industry museum in Manchester and home to the worlds’ first inter-city passenger railway. Back in 1830 representatives from other cities visited and then copied this approach and a new era dawned. Seeing something working in practice helps to crystalize the potential, therefore, following on from this event we are arranging a digital factory tour for clients to help further their understanding.

If you are interested in understanding more about digital manufacturing or joining the tour please contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100 or email him at

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